Juneteenth is an American Holiday: Acknowledging the Past to Move Toward a Better Future
Debra Schrishuhn for the PDA National Team
“No One is Free Until We are All Free”—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, ending slavery in the Confederate States. The Thirteenth Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865, prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude, “except as a punishment for crime” (setting up a new form of slavery in the 20th century through the penal system, an issue that remains unresolved). In between these momentous dates, Union Army Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 on June 19, 1865, as Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, freeing enslaved people in Texas by executive order.
The first Juneteenth celebrations were held in 1866 throughout African American communities in Texas, marking our country’s second independence day.
Juneteenth is a thoroughly American holiday, celebrating freedom, hope, resilience, and the commonality of the American experience. It is a springboard to commemorate the advancement of freedom and to educate Americans on lesser-known parts of our shared history. Although most celebrations are informal and local, Juneteenth is increasingly recognized as an official holiday in most of the 50 states.
To move forward together, to make a more perfect union, we must acknowledge, document, and reflect on the painful and unjust parts of our past, not just the triumphs of some segments of society.
The greater injustice of systemic racism remains intact. Republican legislatures around the country are racing to restrict voting rights, limit First Amendment rights of peaceful assembly, and resist calls to transform our system of policing, ignoring the overarching problem of racism embedded in our country’s founding core.
We cannot achieve racial justice or economic justice or environmental justice until we deal openly with our country’s racist past that influences present policy decisions in all areas and levels of government.
PDA endorses Rep. Barbara Lee’s reintroduction of legislation to establish the nation’s first-ever U.S. Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Commission (H.Con.Res.19, currently with 146 cosponsors to date) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act (H.R.40, with 189 cosponsors to date). These resolutions and their companion bills in the Senate (S.Con.Res.6—15 cosponsors, and S.40—22 cosponsors, both introduced by Sen. Cory Booker) begin the critically needed process of healing America’s racial divide by providing venues to document and account for past actions and policies that have led us to present-day racial inequities, and seeking ways to redress the harm done by centuries of structural racism.
Going forward, you can help encourage more members of Congress to cosponsor these resolutions and other progressive legislation by joining our Congressional Office Liaison team.
Please donate to PDA’s Justice or Bust campaign and help us continue and expand our efforts toward racial justice.